Commonwealth v. Sanitiago

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges. Officer Rivera arrested the defendant for allegedly stealing a pack of cigarettes and assaulting the responding officers when confronted. At the preliminary hearing, no attorney for the Commonwealth participated, although Officer Rivera was present. During the proceedings, Officer Rivera negotiated a plea agreement with the defendant. The officer purported to withdraw all charges except for the summary charge of retail theft and add two summary counts of disorderly conduct. The defendant immediately pleaded guilty to these reconstituted charges and was sentenced. This withdrawal of the initial charges and addition of the new charges was not reduced to, or evidenced by, any writing in the record. The Commonwealth then re-filed the original charges. The MDJ, who presided over the first preliminary hearing, held the re-filed charges for court. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, raising several grounds for relief, including (1) lack of compulsory joinder pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. ยง 110(a)(1) and (2) violation of double jeopardy. The trial court denied the motion, and the Superior Court affirmed. First, the Court noted that the trial court’s order was immediately appealable because an interlocutory appeal filed from the denial of a motion to dismiss on compulsory joinder and double jeopardy grounds following the re-filing of claims by the Commonwealth satisfies the collateral order doctrine under Pa.R.A.P. 313(b). As to the merits, the Court ruled that since the withdrawal of charges was not in writing, it violated Pa.R.Crim.P. 551. Therefore, the withdrawal of charges by Officer Rivera was unsuccessful and legally insufficient. Next, “the lack of a valid withdrawal of charges by the Commonwealth had the same jurisdictional effect under Pa.R.Crim.P. 542(F) and 543(F). Namely, the MDJ could not proceed on the substituted summary charges because the original felony and second-degree misdemeanor then-pending against the defendant were never legitimately withdrawn.”

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